Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety Iain Lees-Galloway has announced that former National Prime Minister Jim Bolger will head up a new working group tasked with designing a system for Fair Pay Agreements.
Promised by the Labour Party before the election, Fair Pay Agreements will be industry-wide agreements that can be triggered when a certain level of support is reached. They will set minimum terms and conditions, including pay rates, which will apply across an industry and include non-union workers. Any industrial action by either side, such as strikes or lockouts, would be banned during negotiations.
Speaking at Victoria University’s Centre for Labour, Employment and Work seminar on Transforming Workplace Relations in March, the Minister said the tripartite negotiations in the university sector a decade ago as an example of what he’s hoping to achieve with Fair Pay Agreements.
With Bolger as its chair, the working group of business and unions has been convened to flesh out the details of how the system will work, with recommendations expected to be put to the Minster before the end of the year.
“The Working Group is comprised of representatives of employers and unions, as well as academics with knowledge of wage setting systems and practices in other countries. This is intended to ensure a diversity of views is taken into account when making the recommendations to the Minister toward the end of the year,” Dr. Stephen Blumenfeld, a member of the group, Director of Victoria University’s Centre for Labour, Employment and Work, and a member of the TEU Council, said.
Business will be represented on the working group by Business New Zealand Chief Executive Kirk Hope, while Hospitality New Zealand will be the voice of small businesses. Unions will be represented by the Assistant Secretary of E tū, John Ryall, and Richard Wagstaff, President of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions.
National Secretary of the Tertiary Education Union Sharn Riggs said Fair Pay Agreements would get the economy back on track to ensuring all that New Zealanders are paid enough to ensure a decent quality of life for them and their whānau.
“Fair pay agreements mean that thousands of Kiwis can start looking forward to earning enough to make ends meet, to provide for their families and whānau, or to have a little extra so they can do more fun things together at the weekend,” Riggs said.
Bolger is a controversial choice as chair of the working group. He was part of the National team responsible for the Employment Contracts Act in 1991, which made union membership voluntary and did away with the National Awards system, the basis for many aspects of the newly-announced agreements.
Harking back to those days, current National Party leader Simon Bridges and Workplace Relations spokesperson Scott Simpson said Fair Pay Agreements do not “sit well with our views to create a flexible, fluid, growing economy that creates jobs.”
Simpson said National would repeal Fair Pay Agreements, suggesting the party has little concern for the thousands of Kiwis who, despite working extremely hard, do not currently earn enough to meet the rising cost of living.
Dr. Blumenfeld said the group’s “recommendations are expected to focus the design of a sector-level bargaining system, the goal of which is to prevent a race to the bottom on wages and, in so doing, encourage innovation and efficiency in the creation of products and the delivery of services.”